Or, What Muffin Tops And A Supreme Court Justice From The Bronx Can Teach Us About Being Scared To Pursue Our Dreams
A young child goes off to his first day of school.
A teenager begins her first day of a real job.
If your memory allows to recall exactly how you were feeling in these same situations, I can bet with near certainty that you weren’t feeling confident and carefree.
It’s perfectly natural and understandable that this young boy and teenage girl will feel intimidated and scared.
But when might we expect this fear to end?
Isn’t there a point when a person could become so successful that this fear of facing a new challenge would cease to exist?
If you were one of the most accomplished and powerful people on planet earth, should you ever feel scared in regular workplace interactions? Think about that for a second because it’s probably not a situation you have ever, or may ever, find yourself in.
What if you achieved such a high stature that you could begin a new job knowing that you could never be fired? If you reached that level, should you still feel intimidated at work?
If you stop to think about it, shouldn’t there be a level so high on the societal totem pole where you could cease feeling scared and intimidated?
Hey, let’s ask someone who has actually reached this exalted place and see what she says. Here’s what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said when asked if becoming a Supreme Court Judge was intimidating: “Oh gosh, I was filled with fear. When you come from a background like mine where you are entering worlds that are so different from your own, you have to be afraid.”
Alright, so maybe those are first day jitters. How about after a few years? How would she answer when asked if she still felt that fear after a few years on the Supreme Court? “Oh yes. Oh yes.”
Could she acknowledge her fears to the other judges? “No, you don’t announce it at a conference.” She laughed. “No, you do your job, okay.”
Let’s analyze this. She is arguably one of the top ten or twenty most powerful people in the United States, which is by many measures the most powerful single country on planet earth, at a time when earthlings are more powerful than they have ever been in human history.
So if one of the most powerful people in the history of the known universe is fearful on a regular basis, then perhaps it’s safe to assume that fear is a very, very common trait.
One of the reasons that we don’t realize how incredibly common it is, even among the most successful people in the world who appear to always ooze confidence, is because in the words of the Supreme Court Justice herself:
“You don’t announce it.”
If you watch an interview before a sports championship with a coach or star player, they will usually say something like, “We’ve got a great game plan. We’ve prepared hard. We’re ready.” They always omit, “And, by the way, I’m also feeling kinda scared right now.” They omit it, not because it’s not true, but simply because, “you don’t announce it.”
But catch them in a reflective moment, like on the hundredth page of all their memoirs, and you’ll discover that fear is universally and regularly felt by virtually every king and rock star too.
Everyone Feels Fear Now And Then
We could look at this as very disheartening: “You mean this never ends? Every new endeavor I undertake, no matter how successful and accomplished I become, will still probably be at least a little scary? …That sucks.”
Or we could look at this as incredibly liberating: “Just about everyone feels fear when trying new things. Wow, now I don’t feel so bad about myself. I thought I was unnaturally scared to try new things. I am less fearful about feeling fearful now that I know that almost everyone else feels this same way too.”
It’s very enlightening to learn that almost every major forward step that almost everyone has ever made in their lives was done in fear.
In fact, if we wait until the fear passes before we embark on a new career, relationship, or any other adventure of life, we will usually accomplish nothing.
The great thing about being a child is that we have powerful parents who force us to do things despite our fears. We would have never learned to read, write, or do basic math if our parents didn’t force us to go to school even though we were probably scared to go that very first day.
There were probably a thousand little things that we were scared to first do as a child, but our parents simply grabbed us by the arm and said, “You’re doing it whether you like it or not.”
And off we went.
Our entire childhoods were absolutely filled with facing fears that we had no power to refuse facing.
- “I don’t want to eat this. I’m afraid of what it will taste like.” “Tough, you’re eating it.”
- “I don’t want to sit on Santa’s lap for this photo. He looks old and scary.” “Tough, you’re going to sit on his lap anyway.”
- “I don’t want to get in that pool and learn to swim.” “Tough, you’re getting in right now.”
You don’t know how good you had it as a kid with parents who wouldn’t allow fear to be an excuse for just about anything. If only we had parents right now who could control us and force us to do everything that we are wrongly fearful to do.
- “I’m scared of going to that audition or interview.” “Tough, you’re going.”
- “I’m afraid to make that phone call.” “Tough, you’re making it.”
- “I’m afraid to ask that person out, speak in front of that crowd, start that blog, ask for that loan, go back to college, enter that gym, ask for that raise, skip that family gathering, say no to that obligation, make that doctor’s appointment, stand up for what I want, say what I believe, tell that person to stop. I’m scared. I’m scared. I’m scared.”
We need to be our own parents and forcefully whisper in our own ears, “Tough. You’re doing it anyway.”
We Cannot Trust Our Fears
Think about this fact. We humans are horrible at assessing the validity of your fears.
We are the worst at it!
All throughout our childhoods, we were fearful about a thousand different things (like our first day of school for example) and our parents had to correctly tell us that we were wrong, wrong, wrong, every single time, and force us to go against our fearful instincts.
And guess what?
We successfully tackled all of those fears and came out the other end relatively unscathed and the better for it.
So because our fear compass is so horribly off; because we cannot be trusted to use it as a guide or else we would accomplish close to nothing, we need to install some self-parenting rules for handling our fears. Here they are:
Does your fear fall into any of the following categories?:
- Could this action possibly cause you physical harm?
- Could this action cause so much damage to your reputation that it would be very hard to repair it?
- Could this action cause so much damage to your career that it would be very hard to repair it?
- Could this action be remembered years from now as one of the major mistakes of your life?
- Could this action harm or injure others in any serious way?
If your fear does not fall into any of these categories, it’s highly likely that the parent in you should grab you by the arm and drag you into that mirage of fire. Actually, even if your fear does fall into one of these categories, it sometimes might still be your best option. But it probably requires a lot more thoughtful consideration before you take such a major risk.
It’s Time For A Change
Alright, let’s get down to some serious business.
Today is a big day for you.
A very big day.
You probably didn’t realize this when you simply sat down to read a self-help blog, but I’m here to lead you in a one-on-one intervention.
It’s time for you to recognize that you need help.
You have a serious problem.
You have a phobia.
It’s so common that we don’t even call it a phobia. But maybe it would be helpful if we gave it its proper name.
There. I just named it so it must be real. You are afraid of being “very uncomfortable.”
Almost every member of the world has it so don’t feel too ashamed. I have it too! But if we don’t step up to conquer it, it robs us of our every hope and dream, just like people who have agoraphobia and don’t leave their houses are robbed of their fullest lives.
In a way, we are still like children in need of some serious self-parenting.
An Inspiring Example Of Someone Who Plowed Through Her Fears
I will leave you with one final example of someone who was in our exact same shoes. Someone who suffered from veryuncomfortableaphobia, recognized it for the dream-stealing menace that it was, and decided to implement some serious self-parenting rules of her own.
Maybe her example can inspire you to finally tackle your own phobia head-on and wrestle it into submission.
This woman was a sales trainer living in the southern U.S. and working as an aspiring stand-up comedian at night.
She had a wacky idea for a product that no one but her thought was a good idea.
She also had something else. Although she didn’t call it this, she had her own version of a self-parenting rule regarding her fear. She made a decision that she would never allow fear to be a reason for her not to do something. If she wanted to try something, and fear was the only thing stopping her, she decided that she would simply force herself to do it anyway.
An incredibly powerful rule to live by, don’t you think? Now back to her wacky product idea.
After reading books on patents and trademarks and doing further research at the Georgia Tech library, she approached many patent lawyers who all thought her idea was so nuts that they literally thought they might be on a prank-type reality show.
So she learned how to write a patent application herself and got her trademark online.
She did months of online research about manufacturing and then drove all around North Carolina asking manufacturers if they would be interested in working with her. Of course, manufacturers will make anything if they know they will get paid. But she didn’t have a financier or major company backing her. She just had herself and the prospect that this product could sell, and when it did, the manufacturers would get paid.
They all sent her away, thinking her product idea was crazy.
Think about how much fear you have to fight through to keep approaching people again, and again, and again, after every lawyer and every manufacturer tells you that your product idea is stupid.
Well, luckily for her, one of these factory owners, after turning her down, mentioned her crazy idea to his daughters. Guess what? They didn’t think it was so crazy. So this manufacturer took a risk and decided to work with her.
After she had her prototype, she cold-called the buyer at Neiman Marcus and begged for a ten minute meeting.
…She got it.
The rest is history.
Her name is Sara Blakely.
Her product is called Spanx.
And at the time, she was the youngest female self-made billionaire in the history of the world!
Now tell me again about that action step you’ve been fearing.
Isn’t it time to make your own self-parenting rule that fear alone will not be a good enough excuse for inaction?
You know it is.
So grab yourself by the arm, drag yourself into the game, and when you feel like you want to pull back, tell yourself, ‘Tough. You’re doing it anyway.’